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Posts Tagged ‘Theo Epstein’

Smile, Red Sox Nation! We made it to the All-Star break! At the traditional halfway mark of the season, we’re sitting on top of the American League East, one game ahead of the Yankees.  We’re much more battered and bent than I thought we would be, and the standings don’t reflect the kind of dominance I thought we’d surely be exhibiting by now.  But given the way we started the season, I have absolutely no right to complain.  Instead, I’ll be thrilled we’ve made it this far, even if we didn’t make it this far in one piece.

In keeping with tradition, I’ve graded the entire team on their performance up to the All-Star break, as I do every year.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

He’s batting .251 with twenty-four RBIs.  He has a slugging percentage of .437; he’s hit twelve doubles, two triples, and six home runs.  He’s had ten passed balls, forty-nine stolen bases, and only sixteen caught-stealings.  His fielding percentage is .997.  He has a wicked arm.  He’s new to the club, and he’s a starter.  Given who he is as a player as well as his position, we expect him to hit fairly well and nail runners.  For the most part, he’s done the first but still needs work on the second.

Jason Varitek: A

Tek’s grade tends to be pretty consistent year-to-year.  Part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t expect as much from him as we used to.  Now that he’s technically no longer a starter, that’s even more true.  As he ages, his value to the team lies less and less in his ability to perform as a player and more and more in his ability to perform as a father figure and team leader.  And in the latter department, he excels to the utmost.  And he’s still top-notch with the pitchers and defensively, even if we consider him an out that gets easier with every passing year.

Kevin Youkilis: A

Over the course of these past few games, he’s really boosted his average, which is now up to .285.  He has forty-nine walks, which ties him for ninth in the American League.  He has twenty-six doubles, which ties him for third in the American League.  He has sixty-three RBIs, which ties him for sixth in the American League.  His average wasn’t too high before this last hot streak of his, but he’s certainly been contributing.  His fielding percentage is .967, which for him is a little low.

Dustin Pedroia: A

Earlier in the season, he was in the middle of one of the longest slumps of his still-young career.  He was getting skittish in two-strike counts, and the high inside fastball was giving him a bit of trouble.  Now, all of that is in the distant past.  His OPS is .837; his OPS over the course of the last seven days is 1.142.  As with Youk, he’s boosted his average a lot recently.  He’s now up to .284.  His fielding percentage is .990.  Even if you look at the big picture with the slump, he contributes.  If he’s not hitting, he’s walking and playing good D.  And if he is hitting, he’s still doing those things.

Marco Scutaro: B

As with Salty, consider what we expect from Scutaro.  Given the fact that our shortstops haven’t exactly been the highlight of our lineups in recent years, we expect him to hit decently but play fantastic D.  With a .259 average, six doubles, and three home runs, he has hit fairly decently, although he should be batting in more than fourteen runs.  His fielding percentage is .977; for a shortstop, I expect more.  It’s the most challenging infield position; we’re halfway through the season, and he’s already made four errors.  Last year, he made eighteen errors.  If he makes another four errors during the second half, that already would be a huge improvement.  But our standards are higher than that.  Besides, what if those four errors cost us four ballgames? We can’t afford that.

Adrian Gonzalez: A

Anyone who gives this man less than an A must have the wrong Gonzalez.  He has done everything we ever expected him to do.  He leads the American League in batting average, hits, doubles, and RBIs (ironically enough, Adrian Beltre is right behind him).  He’s third in runs and on-base percentage, fourth in at-bats, fifth in fielding percentage, and tenth in home runs.  The only thing he doesn’t do is steal bases, but we have Ellsbury and Crawford for that.  Collectively, those numbers tell us that he’s a powerful, durable, and beautifully well-rounded player capable of doing damage in any situation.  In short, he is worth every single bit of his contract.

Jed Lowrie: A

It’s not his fault he’s injured.  Before that, he was swinging a hot bat and playing well in the field.

Yamaico Navarro: B

Not great at the plate but literally flawless in the field.  He’s only been filling in temporarily anyway.

Drew Sutton: B

Sutton may be on the roster for the same reasons as Navarro, but he’s the exact opposite: not great in the field but outstanding at the plate.

JD Drew: B

Same old, same old.  Perfection in the field, mediocrity at the plate.  It’s really sad that that hasn’t changed.  Although I should mention that his highest monthly average of the season, 2.69, occurred in April, when everyone else’s monthly averages were probably at their worst.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Given last year’s injury and the fact that his season was therefore cut way too short, Ellsbury has had some catching up to do.  Not only has he caught up to our expectations; he has surpassed them.  He leads the American League in stolen bases.  He’s fifth in at-bats and average, sixth in runs, third in hits, and tied with Youk for third in doubles.  He’s set a new career high in home runs so far this year, and we still have half a season left to play.  Also worth mentioning is the fact that, over the course of the last seven days, Ellsbury has batted .467.  In the field, he has five assists, a new career high, and has yet to make an error.

Carl Crawford: C

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about his contract when I gave Crawford this grade.  But the truth is that he deserves it.  The contract is simply a manifestation of the expectations that both the organization and therefore the fans have of Crawford, who has proven that he can meet and even surpass those high expectations.  So far, he’s done nothing of the kind.  Before he made his way onto the DL, he batted below .250, failed to post home runs in the double-digits, and walked and stole bases less than ten times each.  He also made two errors.  He was supposed to excel in every single one of those categories.  He was supposed to be the left-handed Adrian Gonzalez who could run.  So far, not so much.

Darnell McDonald: B

He said it himself: he’s not contributing at the level he could or should.  The added playing time helped him last year; thankfully, we have more guys healthy, so he doesn’t have as much playing time this year.  But the art of the bench player is the ability to perform when necessary, playing time or no playing time.

Josh Reddick: A

He’s just as good as we’ve ever seen him.  He performs whenever we need him; he practices the art of the bench player.  Obviously, that’s because one day he won’t be a bench player; he’ll be a starter.  In the meantime, he’s a great kid to have around.

David Ortiz: A

It’s pretty simple.  He’s batting above .300 and slugging about .575 with twenty-three doubles, nineteen home runs, and fifty-five RBIs.  He’s not supposed to field; as a designated hitter, he’s supposed to slug.  And that’s what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well.

Offense Overall: B

The team leads the Major Leagues in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Despite this and the fact that there are a good number of players performing well on an individual level, the offense as a whole doesn’t get an A because it’s streaky.  Sometimes we’ll average about seven runs a game during a stretch; sometimes we’ll be lucky to score at all.  The mark of a good, solid offense is not to sometimes average seven runs a game; the mark of a good, solid offense is to do so consistently throughout the season.  That’s not something we’ve seen yet.  Until we do, we’ll just be a lineup with great hitters in it, not necessarily a consistently great lineup.

Defense Overall: C

We lead the Major Leagues in errors with forty-four, and we’re sixth in fielding percentage with .987.  That’s not good.

Josh Beckett: A

Beckett this season has been a model of consistency in the most positive of ways.   2.27 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, eight and three record, and ninety-four strikeouts and only seven home runs.  He’s a changed man from last year; this year, he’s found his former self.

Jon Lester: A

I’m going to give him an A because his numbers are fine enough, but I expect more from him.  His ERA is 3.31; it should be under three.  His WHIP is 1.21; it should be under one.  He’s given up fourteen home runs; it should be less than ten.  But he has ten wins by the All-Star break, which means he could have twenty by season’s end, and he has more than one hundred strikeouts.  Excellent, but not as excellent as I thought he’d be.

Clay Buchholz: B

Before he was injured, he wasn’t as great as he could have been.  Unlike Lester, his numbers aren’t that sufficiently good as to warrant a better grade even though he hasn’t performed to expectations.  He has a 3.48 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, a record of six and three, only sixty strikeouts, ten home runs, and thirty-one walks.  He’ll need to work hard in the second half in order to return to form.

John Lackey: C

Lackey’s most recent start was the only start this year in which I felt we were seeing the Lackey we signed.  During all the other starts, we saw some pitcher we’d never even think of signing.  His ERA is 6.84, and his record is six and eight.  But you don’t need the numbers to tell you how inconsistent, spotty, and unpredictable his outings are and how porous and lacking in command he’s been.  It’s gotten to the point where him being on the DL is a good thing.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that I’ve had just about enough of this.  We’ve been waiting and waiting for years now for him to show us even a small glimpse of the greatness he exhibited in Japan.  Well, guess what.  We’re still waiting.  And now he’s done for the season because he needs Tommy John surgery.  This could go one of two ways: either he won’t recover well at all and he’ll be even worse afterwards or he’ll make a spectacular recovery and it’ll turn out that the surgery corrected mechanical issues that were the root of the problem all along.  Either way, no matter how you slice and dice it, he didn’t pitch well this season.  You don’t need numbers to tell you that either.

Tim Wakefield: A

His ERA is in excess of four, and his WHIP is 1.27.  But technically his job is no longer to be a starter who can put the team in a position to win every fifth day.  His job is now to come in for an inning or two when necessary and keep the team in a position to win, and sometimes, when a starter is injured, to put the team in a position to win.  He is on the verge of making history with his long career, and age doesn’t seem to affect him at all.  He’s like the Benjamin Button of baseball.  He’s the ultimate team player; he answers the call of duty and he doesn’t complain.  Sometimes his knuckleball doesn’t dance like it should and he has a terrible night out.  But overall, when we need him to do something, he just does it.  It sounds simple enough, but not every ballplayer can do it.

Alfredo Aceves: A

Aceves has gone above and beyond.  He went from being a question mark during Spring Training to starting material.  He has an ERA of 3.41 and a WHIP of 1.22.  He has a record of four and one with one save.  How many pitchers can say that, after both starting and pitching in relief for half a season, they have a winning record as well as a save? Not many.  He can pretty much do it all, and that’s not even what he signed up for.  He can start, he can provide reliable middle relief, and he can close too.  I don’t think anyone expect him to be the versatile pitcher that the circumstances of the injuries to our staff have demanded he become.  But he rose to the occasion and continues to impress every time out

Matt Albers: A

Here’s another guy who continues to impress.  Again, during Spring Training, I don’t think anyone could have envisioned the dominant reliever he’d turn out to be.  He’s been as solid as solid gets.  2.55 ERA, thirty-for strikeouts, and almost two innings pitched per appearance.  So he’s both dependable and durable, arguably the two most important characteristics of a good reliever.  And with the way some of our starters have been pitching, if not for Albers we’d have been in desperate need of a good reliever.

Scott Atchison: B

He’s been better.  Like Morales, he’s a pitcher, and we need pitchers, so we’ll take what we can get and we’ll have to like it.  But to be honest I never like the look of a 4.70 ERA or a 1.43 WHIP.

Rich Hill: A

He’s appeared in nine games and thrown eight innings.  His ERA is zero.  That’s pretty good.

Andrew Miller: B

Yet another Spring Training question mark of whom we’ve seen much more than we ever thought he would.  He’s pitched decently.  For what we were expecting, he’s not great but not too bad.

Franklin Morales: B

Morales came into the fold when we were desperate for pitchers, period.  He hasn’t been outstanding, but he’s a pitcher, and given our circumstances that’s been good enough for us.

Dan Wheeler: B

His WHIP and his ERA are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The good news is that he has an ERA of zero when pitching in day games.  So all we have to do is use him in relief during the day, and we’re guaranteed success.

Bobby Jenks: D

So far, Jenks is an epic fail.  Enough said.

Daniel Bard: A

Bard’s ERA is 2.05, and his WHIP is 0.80.  His ERA was zero for all of June as well as July to date.  Of the seventeen teams he’s faced in his career, he has an ERA of zero against twelve, including the Rays and the Phillies.  He has faced only five batters after throwing fifteen pitches.  Not too shabby.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

If only Paps were as consistent as Bard.  His ERA is almost four, and his WHIP is much too large for a closer.  And yet somehow he has twenty saves to his credit and has blown just one.  He’s on pace to lower his walk total from last year’s, which is definitely a good sign.  But as long as I have to hold my breath whenever he comes out of the bullpen, I won’t be able to give him an A.

Pitching Overall: B

Giving the pitching staff an overall rating is very complicated and in some ways not even fair.  The reason why it’s fair for the lineup and not for the pitching staff is because the pitching staff doesn’t have a responsibility to perform well as a unit in the same game.  Each pitcher has his time to shine; if he has it, great, and if he doesn’t it’s on him.  Ellsbury’s ability to get himself into scoring position may be contingent on what the hitter before him does, but Beckett’s abiltiy to secure a win has nothing to do with the fact that Jenks can’t hold it down.  But in keeping with tradition, I’ll grade the pitching staff on the whole.  Such a grade must reflect the entire staff, which unfortunately includes some very sad cases.

Terry Francona: A

Arguably one of the best managers in club history.  Certainly one of the best managers active in the game today.  It’s a travesty that he didn’t win Manager of the Year last year.  The way he manages all the personalities in this club and maneuvers through injuries, he’s Manager of the Year every year in my book.

Theo Epstein: A

Jenks and Dice-K (and Lugo and Gagne, while we’re at it) were fails, but you can’t blame him for trying.  Crawford can’t be judged yet.  Besides, for Gonzalez alone, he gets an A.  That deal is one of his masterpieces.

Team Overall: B

It’s hard to argue with the fact that we lead in so many offensive categories as well as in the American League East.  Why the B? Because we’re only in first place by one game and we’re already halfway through the season.  Granted, we’re pretty injured, and it’s hard to conquer when your staff is on the DL.  But in the grand scheme of things, many of those injuries have been fairly recent.  Nobody was injured in April.  There’s no way we should have had the start to the season that we did.  We should have been running away with the division last month, if that late.  It’s all well and good to build some momentum during Interleague and take four games from the Orioles, but any team can do that.  Our team is better than being satisfied with sweeping Baltimore.  We should be sweeping New York and Philadelphia.  We have two and a half months to get our act together and show everyone why we’ll be winning the World Series this October.  So let’s get on with it already.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Wanting to play better yesterday than we did on Saturday wouldn’t have taken much.  That’s how bad Saturday’s game was.  So the fact that we won yesterday was like a breath of fresh air.  A new winning streak is born.

Due to the dire situation with our starters on the DL, Wake got the call and delivered.  He pitched through six solid innings.  He was pulled after he gave up his first run in the seventh; he allowed a double before securing two outs and then allowing another double.  Bard came in and got the last out, and he had a one-two-three eighth.  Paps made the save in the ninth.  Wake had allowed only one run on four hits while walking none and striking out three.  Not bad for a forty-four-year-old.

It was awesome to see Wake pitch so well.  That was another breath of fresh air, for us and for him too, I’m sure.  He hadn’t even been pitching much out of the bullpen lately.  Of course, knuckleball pitchers don’t need to pitch consistently to pitch well, but it was awesome to see him go out there at his age and still dominate.  Not to mention the fact that it’s very reasonable to assume that he could win the two hundredth game of his career this year.  I can’t think of anyone who would deserve that milestone more.

He was ridiculously efficient.  Over four innings, he threw thirty-five pitches.  Over five, he threw fifty and allowed only one hit, which he duly erased with a double play.  With two outs in the fifth, Wake was on the way to an inning-ending strikeout when his final pitch went wild, bringing the batter to first.  That made the fifth inning his first of the night during which he did not face the minimum.  Over six and two-thirds innings, he threw only seventy-five pitches.  That’s way more efficient than some of our starters have been lately.  And fifty-five of his pitches were strikes.  So almost three-quarters of all his pitches were strikes.  He threw three fastballs all night, all three for strikes.  He threw only one curveball for a strike.  But his knuckleball was as nasty and elusive as I’ve ever seen it.  His highest pitch count in an inning was fifteen; we’ve seen some outings recently where that was the lowest.  His lowest was seven in the third; he threw only eight pitches in the second and fourth.  He was just on.  Knuckleball pitchers are very difficult to explain.  Usually, when they’re on, they’re just on, and that’s the end of it.

By the time the Cubs got on the board in the seventh, we had already scored three.  In the fourth, two singles and a walk loaded the bases.  Lowrie and Cameron each hit a sac fly to bring in two.  In the fifth, Salty led off by going yard on an extremely slow fastball.  That ball was barely contained by the Monster seats.  It ended up in the last row.  It was his third homer of the season, and he’s hit all three in his last four games as part of a five-game hitting streak.  In Theo we trust.  That’s all I’m saying.

We even recovered Wake’s lone run in the seventh and gave ourselves some insurance to boot.  With two out and two on, Youk tripled in both.  5-3.  Done.  Short and sweet.  Efficient, productive, and positive.

Gonzalez, by the way, was perfect at the plate and collected four hits for the second time this series.  Again, in Theo we trust.

Half a game out of first place, we head out on the road for seven games.  Cleveland is our first stop, and Buchholz will make our first start.  We’re at a point in the season right now where it’s just fun to sit back, relax, and watch everything fall into place.  I’m psyched to see what Buchholz has in store for us tonight.

Boston Globe Staff/Bill Greene

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Between a rainout and the schedule, we had two days off.  I thought that would be a good thing.  Two days off to regroup, re-energize, re-focus, and re-find ourselves.  For some, it was exactly that.  For others, maybe they should just have no days off and they would play better.  I don’t know.  Either way, it was ugly.

The game was preceded by a ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson Day and, as is customary on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut, everyone wore Number Forty-Two.  It’s a day that really makes you stop and think about the true significance of the impact he really had.  Here’s to you, Jackie Robinson.  We salute you.

After the conclusion of the third inning, it looked like many of the predictions I’d been hearing that this series would be the one during which we’d finally turn it around would come true.  In the first, Adam Lind hit what looked like would be the end of us: a three-run shot.  The ball hit the top of the fence, but after that, the view was terrible.  First base umpire Paul Nauert initially thought that the ball landed to the left of the pole.  Luckily, thankfully, fortunately, and correctly, the call was overturned, and it was called a foul ball.  (That would be Lind’s last approach to anything close to an extra-base hit.  In the fourth, Lind hit a ball that was sailing over center field fast, but Ellsbury had that ball’s number all the way.  He made the catch on the run on the warning track in the triangle for the second out in the fourth.)

The offense didn’t do much of anything leading up to the third, but Pedroia took two balls and then walloped an eighty-eight mile-per-hour sinker into the first row of the Monster seats for a solo shot.  This after, in the top of the inning, he made a fantastic play to get an out at first with which Buchholz should have been very familiar; the running, rolling over, spinning around, and firing was almost exactly the same play that Pedroia made to preserve Buchholz’s no-hitter.  Pedroia, in case you didn’t already know, is officially the sparkplug of this team.  And then Gonzalez walked and Youk, for the first time since last July, after taking a ball and a strike, also walloped an eighty-eight mile-per-hour sinker out of the yard.  It landed several feet to the right of the 379-foot mark in center field.  Clearly it’s only a matter of time before he gets going, because that ball was hit with some major power.

Sadly, however, that lead wouldn’t last.  The Jays got two runs back in the fifth and one in the sixth to tie it.  And now would be the time to talk about the pitching.

Buchholz didn’t have his best stuff.  Surprise, surprise.  His final line was three runs on three hits over five innings with three strikes and five walks.  Yes, five walks.  That matches a career high.  That’s more walks than he’s supposed to give up in a whole season.  Two of those walks turned into runs.  As I said, and every sabermetrician will tell you the same, walks will haunt.  Walks bring runners home on hits that otherwise wouldn’t be a big deal.

The five walks were only a manifestation in the books of Buchholz’s problem overall: a lack of command.  That’s where walks come from.  He threw ninety-nine pitches, only forty-six of which were strikes.  He was totally erratic.  He varied his speed, but it was a fail because he had to throw incredibly lame offspeeds to do so.  As he said himself, he’d try to throw one pitch and it would go one way out of the strike zone, and then he’d try to throw the exact same pitch and it would go the completely opposite way out of the strike zone.  In terms of strikes, his most effective pitch was his cutter, and only threw that for strikes sixty percent of the time.  So all of his other pitchers were thrown for strikes even less than that.  He had particular trouble with his other two offspeeds, the curveball and changeup.  His fastballs weren’t so effective either.  He only got up to ninety-four miles per hour.  A plot of his strike zone will show you that he was in out, around, and all over the lower right corner of the zone, and he threw several pitches high.  It wasn’t good.  Anytime you have a starter known for offspeeds, he has to command, because offspeeds are only as good as their execution, which produces the proper location.  If he wasn’t releasing the ball well or couldn’t find the strike zone, he wasn’t going to win.

He didn’t lose either.  He didn’t receive a decision.  Two batters into the sixth, he was lifted in favor of Alfredo Aceves, who induced a double play but then allowed his second inherited runner to score.  So he received a blown save for his trouble.  But that was nowhere near the worst of it.  Because Bobby Jenks came on after that and finished us off.

Jenks faced six batters in the seventh and recorded only one out, a swinging strikeout on four pitches.  If only that flash of brilliance permeated the rest of the frame.  Two line drives to Crawford for two runs, one run on a wild pitch, and a fourth run on another line drive to Crawford.  Those four runs are a career high; those four hits tie a career high.  It was brutal.  Single after single after single.  Run after run after run.  And suddenly our power third inning was completely erased and, not only were we no longer tied, but we were back to losing.  Jenks so far has been great, so maybe he’s allowed one majorly huge inning of badness.  It just came at the worst time because we lost the game right there.  Which is why he got the loss.

Doubront pitched the rest of the inning with ease.  Wheeler came on in the next inning, promptly sent down his three batters, and made way for the offense.

We looked like we were going to come back.  We were down by four, and we looked like we knew that we could overcome it.  Gonzalez grounded out.  Youk and Papi walked consecutively.  Drew struck out swinging.  And Lowrie, who came in to pinch-hit for Salty, singled in a run.  Scutaro doubled in two more.  And Ellsbury stood at the plate.  You could cut the suspense with a knife.  One more run would tie it, and any more would put us out in front.  And then we would make it happen in the ninth for the win.  So what did Ellsbury do? He flied out to right field on his first pitch.

Paps came on for the ninth; he walked one but, thanks to a groundout and a double play, faced the minimum.  In the bottom of the ninth, a strikeout and two groundouts ended it.  We lost, 7-6.

A note on the weather.  It was freezing outside.  Buchholz mentioned it after the game.  Did that have anything to do with his lack of performance? Only he would know.  Should it have anything to do with it? Not in the least.  First of all, we’re not the Rockies and this isn’t Denver.  If the Rockies can play all year long in Denver, we can play all year long in Boston, and we don’t even need a humidor.  Secondly, this is a team of guys that make their career here.  That means dealing with the bitter cold as well as the brutal heat.  Buchholz came up through the farms.  He’s been pitching in Boston for several years already.  Every once in a while, you have to deal with particularly uncomfortable conditions, but hey, that’s baseball in Boston.  Besides, Wheeler came over from the Rays, who play in Florida, and I didn’t see him having a problem.

Three of our five hits were for extra bases, but we left six on base and went two for eight with runners in scoring position.  Nobody posted a multi-hit game, although Youk and Papi both walked twice.  Crawford did absolutely nothing; no walks, no hits, nothing.  So I would say that, no, right now, at this particular moment in time, he is not currently in the process of earning his contract.  Gonzalez, however, is a different story.  Not only is he earning his trade, but he is also earning his contract, an extension that was announced yesterday.  We signed him for seven years and $154 million.  Money-wise, it’s the ninth largest contract in Major League history, largest of our current ownership, and second largest in club history, right behind the Manny Ramirez deal of 2000, which exceeded this one by six million dollars.  I will be the first to admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan of contracts that are large in either money or years because it decreases the financial and strategic flexibility of the club, but when it’s done shrewdly, it can be effective.  This contract provides us with stability at not one but two key positions, because now Youk knows he can get comfortable at third.  And so far, overall, Gonzalez has been hitting, and he’s been hitting in a particular style that shows us that he’s going to be successful here.  Let’s also remember that we’re not the Yankees.  We don’t hand out this kind of money or these types of contracts very lightly.  In Theo we trust.  And as soon as Crawford starts hitting and stealing, we’ll see returns on that too.

The bottom line is that we lost yesterday.  The good news is that we lost by only one run, which means we were right back in it.  The bad news is that we lost by only one run, which means that we only needed one more and we couldn’t get it, not even with our lineup.  We had sub-par starting pitching, and we didn’t always have the greatest hitting, but this one is on the bullpen.  Aceves allowed his inherited runner to score, but that’s only one.  That could have been the difference-maker.  Instead, Bobby Jenks comes in and starts throwing like a pitching machine.

But we need to remember something.  We may be two and ten, and we may be in last place in our division.  But we’re five games out of first with 150 games to play.  We’ve seen so much worse.  We’ve been five games out of first with less than thirty games to play.  And I still stand by my assertion that a lineup, pitching staff, and bullpen like ours absolutely can not be good only on paper and not in practice.  We will turn it around, and when we do, I would suggest that the rest of Major League Baseball take notice.  It’s the meantime before that turnaround that’s going to be tough.  Next up: Beckett and hopefully a repeat performance of his last start.

In other news, the Bruins were shutout by the Habs in our first playoff contest.  Never a great way to start.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Let’s start with a recap of the end of two weeks ago.  On Thursday, Andrew Miller turned in his third quality outing of Spring Training against the Rays.  One hit and one K over one and a third innings.  Good for him; his previous outing wasn’t so quality.  Cameron returned to the lineup after sitting out with tendonitis in his left knee.  Obviously the biggest story was Crawford’s debut against his former team; he got a hit and made a spectacular diving catch to end the fourth.  Crawford even stole the show from Damon, who claims that he would have approved a trade to Boston if he knew that Detroit wouldn’t re-sign him.  I think he’s just saying that now because he sees a World Series-winning team.  Anyway, we lost, 8-6, and the rest of the game was a different story.  Dice-K gave up five hits and as many runs over three and two-thirds innings with two walks to lead off the game and two K’s.  Over his last six and two-thirds innings, he’s given up ten earned runs.  In three outings, he’s got an ERA of 11.42.  He is not concerned.  Tito isn’t concerned.  And if this were any time of the baseball-playing year besides Spring Training, they would be about the only two people not concerned.  But it is Spring Training, and Dice-K is taking some liberties that he otherwise wouldn’t.  I would suggest bearing with him.  He’s working on his changeup and cutter a lot this spring, and he wants to be more aggressive with the zone this year, so while he works on that, it could look ugly.  But now is not the time to worry.

We scored five runs in the first two innings of Fridays’ game against the Astros and won it, 9-3.  Scutaro and Pedroia were the only regulars in the game because the squad was split, but they took care of business.  Pedroia went two for three, both for extra bases, plus two RBIs, and a walk.  Meanwhile, it took Paps twenty-nine pitches to record one out and three walks and give up one hit and three runs.  And that’s how the Twins won, 3-2.  Crawford made an error.  Lester, however, fired off four spotless innings; he allowed four hits and struck out five.

Adrian Gonzalez batted third and manned first on Saturday in his debut against the Marlins.  He turned his first pitch into a single.  His second and last at-bat resulted in a sac fly.  And his goal is to play in every single game this year.  If he continues his good work, that’s fine with me.  Ellsbury and Pedroia both went three for three, the former with two doubles and a homer and the latter with a single.  Lackey gave up a run on six hits over four and two-thirds innings with three K’s and no walks.  Lackey threw forty-nine of seventy-five pitches for strikes.  We won, 9-2.  Saturday also marked the premiere of “Down the Line,” a documentary on MLB Network at Fenway’s staff.  Make no mistake; that is where the magic happens.  And according to a Major League source, the team has let it be known that they’re willing to trade Dice-K for a young catcher and Wakefield for a southpaw reliever.  Cameron and McDonald, in light of the options on Kalish and Reddick, could also be on the block, and the team may entertain offers for Scutaro.  Theo has denied all accuracy of this report, explicitly labeling it as false.  I’m going to listen to Theo for now.  At the very least, you can be confident that, given his full no-trade clause and salary and performance (or lack thereof), Dice-K will not be moving anytime soon.  Meanwhile, he’s changing his side schedule; instead of throwing both a long toss and his side session two days after each start, he’s going to throw a long toss the first day after his start, another the second, and his side session on the third.  This idea, of course, is courtesy of Curt Young.  At this point, I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that it’s all well and good to know everything that’s going on with his various training adjustments and throwing adjustments and workout adjustments, but I just want them to find the problem with him and fix it as soon as possible.

The Pirates beat us, 9-4, on Sunday.  Beckett gave up a run on four hits through his first four innings.  Then he gave up a homer, a walk, a double, and a bases-loading hit-by-pitch in the fifth, and that was the end of that.  Fortunately for everybody, Beckett made an extra effort to incorporate his changeup, which has been the distinguishing feature of each of the best years of his career.  Unfortunately for everybody, he lost it last year.  So he’s trying to get it back this year.  Atchison then proceeded to allow all his inherited runners to score.  Bard’s inning was scoreless.

Buchholz and Wake both threw productive simulated games on Monday rather than face the Yankees for the second time this spring.  Meanwhile, we beat the Yankees, 2-1; Paps turned in a scoreless frame.

We beat the Tigers by the same score on Tuesday.  Dice-K two-hit Detroit through five innings while striking out five.  His curveball was absolutely unhittable.  On the field and at the plate, Ellsbury stole the show with a homer and a spectacular catch.  McDonald also homered as well as DH.

We barely lost to the Braves on Wednesday, 3-4.  Lester allowed three runs on eight hits over four and two-thirds innings.  He walked two and led off the game with three consecutive singles.  Scutaro went deep on the Braves’ second pitch of the game.  Salty hit an RBI double, and Reddick hit an RBI single.  V-Mart expressed thanks for his time in Boston and believes that Salty and Tek will do well.

We beat the Mets on Thursday, 8-5.  Lackey allowed a run on five hits over five and a third innings with two strikeouts and his first walk of Spring Training.  Paps got rocked; he gave up two consecutive doubles and four runs.  He insists that he knows exactly what his problem is.  Honestly, it’s not that hard to figure out: he’s not locating the zone right now.  Crawford went two for three with a steal.

We lost to the Tigers yesterday, 3-8.  Buchholz was not his best.  He gave up three runs, only one earned, on five hits with two walks and a strikeout.  That one earned run was the product of a homer that led off the second.  He retired the side in the fourth, but that was it for ease.  His mechanics were just off.  And you can thank Youk and Gonzalez for the unearned runs.  Pedroia homered for the first time this spring.

We followed that loss with two more today.  Wake allowed four homers, six runs on seven hits in total, and one walk in only three innings en route to a 3-7 loss to Tampa Bay.  Meanwhile, Beckett allowed one earned run and four unearned over four and two-thirds innings en route to a 5-7 loss to the Pirates.  Scutaro and Pedroia posted multi-hit games, and Wheeler’s appearance was scoreless.

We also completed our first round of roster cuts this past week, sending five down.  Our lineup, by the way, has more or less quietly taken shape: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Gonzalez, Youk, Papi, Drew, Salty, and Scutaro have batted in that order during almost all full squad games this spring.  That’s not a real surprise; it follows my prediction pretty closely, and it’s a lineup built for success.  Tito is doing his best not to cluster the lefties too much and to spread the tools evenly.  Not to mention the fact that we are so stacked, it’s not even funny.  And we have officially finalized our pitching staff.  Lester got the nod to start on Opening Day.  As it should be.  Given his general sub-par game lately, not only should Beckett not be offended by that, but he should also not be surprised that he was dropped to fourth.  And Tito had his other reasons: he’d rather have Beckett start his season against the Indians than against the Rangers.  He is not happy.  He wanted the Opening Day nod, and he explicitly disagreed with the drop.  He doesn’t think that the extra time will matter much, and he’s a competitor, so naturally he doesn’t want to accept the fact that lately he’s been not good in a general sense.  Lackey is the Number Two, followed by Buchholz, and Dice-K of course will start fifth.  So as it stands now, Lackey will be pitching our home opener against the Yanks.  I’m just wondering why it’s Lackey followed by Buchholz and not the other way around.  I’m sure Tito has his reasons, but that one-two punch was almost unbeatable last year.  I wouldn’t want to split it up.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Sabres in overtime on Thursday and to the Islanders on Friday.  We beat the Blue Jackets in a shootout on Tuesday but lost to the Predators in overtime on Thursday and to the Leafs today.

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We have a less than a month until pitchers and catchers report.  This is the home stretch, people.  Less than a month.  It’s been a long winter.  It’s been too long a winter.  And like I said, the last few weeks are the most difficult, but we got this.  We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Only a few more weeks and then before you know it, it’s Spring Training followed by Opening Day.  I’m psyched.

Meanwhile, Marco Scutaro is officially our starting shortstop.  This is not surprising.  But it’s not like Lowrie isn’t going to get any playing time.  Trust me on that.

Theo avoided arbitration yet again.  Also not surprising.  Paps and Ellsbury each have one-year contracts for twelve million dollars and $2.4 million, respectively.  This is the third time we’ve signed Paps to a one-year deal, and I think that speaks to his wavering performance.  Three years ago he was golden, two years ago his walks were up, and last year just wasn’t a good year for no particularly apparent reason.  It’s going to be really interesting when he becomes a free agent for the first time.  I have no predictions for that because Paps hasn’t given us much reliability to work with.  This is a contract year, but so was last year.  He has some competition from Bard, but he did also last year.  The only impactful external difference is Bobby Jenks, who represents more competition and more insurance.  Or maybe Paps will just return to form after making various adjustments and working on various pitches, which is obviously preferable because that would show some future value we can more easily project.

As far as Ellsbury is concerned, that’s a steal.  That’s as good a bargain as you’re going to get.  He played in eighteen games last season due to his injury, so that’s a pretty hefty raise from his previous salary of slightly less than half a million.  So don’t get used to it.  He’s a good player with a ton of worth, and if he stays healthy and has a good year this year, $2.4 million will seem like peanuts compared to what we’re going to have to shell out to keep him here.

I would just like to note that our payroll for 2011 will be somewhere around $163 million total, which is close to what it was last season.  It’s all about responsibility and financial flexibility.  And only Theo would be able to maintain both of those and still make two major signings, one with a large contract and the other hopefully with a similar one pending.

In other news, the Bruins played back-to-back games with the Canes earlier this week.  We won both.  First, we shut them out, seven-zip.  It was awesome.  They had no chance whatsoever.  Then we beat them again, 3-2.  Then we lost to the Sabres, 2-4.  Then we beat the Avs, 6-2.  Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand each scored twice.  Barring that one loss, I’d say it was a good week.  For hockey, at least.  Because finally, last but not least, the Patriots.  Let’s get this over with.  The Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs by the Jets.  There will be no Super Bowl this year because we scored only two touchdowns en route to a 21-28 loss.  For the first one, Brady threw a two-yard pass and then went for a two-point conversion, and that was it.  The rest we accomplished with field goals.  And there were sacks.  There was an interception.  He set a league record of 335 passes this season without an interception, and yet somehow there was an interception.  We had the best record in the entire NFL, and we lost our third straight postseason game.  I hate to say this, but it felt a lot like the Pats-Giants Super Bowl, where we spent the entire season basically steamrolling over everybody, but when the final moment came, our ridiculously good offense was matched up against a defense that was just as good, and our defense didn’t match up as well to their offense.  That’s kind of what happened here.  It was just surreal and incredibly disappointing.  I had us winning the Super Bowl before the game even started.  Well, what can you do? As we like to say, there’s always next year.

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Yeah.  If you thought last week was boring, just prepare to not hold onto your hat, because this week was even worse.  Last year, we were entertained by Dice-K drama, Jason Bay drama, and arbitration drama, among other things.  Not so this year.  This year was smooth sailing.  Actually, given all the bargain-hunting that Theo did the past two years, it’s not surprising.  We’ve got a strong foundation heading into 2011 as a result.  And it’s been pretty good not having to parse various whines and complaints.

The Yankees acquired Rafael Soriano.  That was pretty much it, and that doesn’t even have anything to do with us.  Cashman did this partly to live up to his namesake and partly to counter all of our moves, but it’s weak revenge.  Soriano is one guy.  The last time the Yankees tried to strengthen their entire team with only one guy was back when they acquired Randy Johnson, and that was an epic fail.  Yankee fans would argue that we tried to fix all of our problems with two guys.  As usual, they would be incredibly wrong.  Our problems last year had nothing to do with the team; they had everything to do with injuries.  We saw, during that one glimmering window of health before the All-Star break, that that team was World Series material.  All we did during the offseason was make it even more like World Series material.

So I’ll let the rest of the baseball community sweat this out.  I personally am not concerned.  So Soriano will set up for Rivera; big deal.  That’s, what, two, maybe three innings? If I were them, I’d be spending less time perfecting the last two or three innings and more time worrying about the first six or seven.  Because, with our lineup, by the time Soriano rolls around, the crush will already have occurred and the ownage will already have taken place.  The Soriano-Rivera combination can not undo damage that’s already been done; they can merely prevent further damage, and imperfectly at that.  We’ve beaten Rivera before, in incredibly big ways, and we will do it again.  That is a fact.  So if this helps Cashman sleep at night, go ahead and be my guest, but he’s not transferring any insomnia to me.  No, sir.  I for one will be riding Theo’s genius all the way to November.

Speaking of which, I should mention that Papi is going to have a monster year.  We have identified a problem to which he has seemed to be prone in the past: that of pressure due to a lack of adjacent big bats in the lineup.  Yeah.  About that.  That is supremely no longer a problem.

The Cubs claimed Max Ramirez off waivers.  Good for them.  They need him more than we do.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Penguins, Senators, and Flyers this week.  But those last two were the highlights.  Seriously.  First, we shut out the Sens, 6-zip.  I’m not kidding.  Then, two days later, we followed that with a win over Philly by a final score of 7-5; five of those seven goals were scored in the third period alone.  Those are ridiculous.  Both of those are baseball scores on a good day.  Even our win over Pittsburgh was accomplished with  four goals.  This is great.  Solid goalie performances plus high-scoring games equals lots to look forward to this spring.  We ended the week with a one-goal loss to the Penguins, which wasn’t so great, but you can’t win ‘em all, I guess.  Meanwhile, the Pats take on the Jets this afternoon in playoff elimination.  If we win today, we play the Steelers next weekend.  Let’s do this.

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Wow.  Quietest.  Baseball week.  Ever.  It’s like last week; after all the moves we made, what could possibly have happened this week? The only big question I can think of concerning our starters is the shortstop question, and that’s not even a big question.  I think it’s already basically decided that Scutaro will start and Lowrie will serve as backup.  Lowrie is basically the ultimate utility man, and he won’t be for long.  He’s unquestionably starter material.  So he’s going to need playing time, because when he’s hot, he’s hot.  So it’s one of those things that you can debate and debate and debate, but at the end of the day, the veteran will get the nod to start after Spring Training and it could all change a few weeks into the season.  Maybe someone gets injured.  Maybe someone gets a day off.  Maybe adjustments need to be made for a lefty or a righty.  You never know.

Basically, it all comes down to the fact that we’re almost at pitchers and catchers.  Almost.  Right now we’ve come to the worst part of the winter: the home stretch.  This year has been a long one for obvious reasons, and that little bit more is just unbearable.  The team is finalized; we’re ready to go.  And yet we’ve got a little more than a month left.  Well.  There’s nothing we can do about it except wait.  Which, in and of itself, is absolutely torturous.  Opening Day is going to be epic.  Meanwhile, there’s absolutely nothing to be done.  It’s just painful.

We have officially entered the period of arbitration; players have until Saturday to file.  Paps and Ellsbury are both eligible.  Meanwhile, Theo has never gone to arbitration for any player in any of his first eight seasons as Boston’s GM.  Not once.  That’s impressive.  And it’ll be more impressive if he can do it again this year, especially given who’s eligible.  I think the emphasis here is on Paps.  Arbitration has the potential to get ugly for him.  So hopefully we just avoid that and everyone stays happy.

You may remember Max Ramirez, the catching prospect we tried to land from the Rangers in exchange for Mike Lowell.  We just claimed him off waivers.  The Mets took Taylor Buchholz.  Technically this isn’t so relevant to us anymore, but just as a point of interest, Beltre finally signed.  He signed a six-year deal with the Rangers worth ninety-six million dollars.  That’s a lot of years and a lot of money.  Despite the two back-to-back Gold Gloves, his defense is far from spotless, and despite his uncanny success within the confines of Fenway, he’s not exactly the Cliff Lee of hitting depending on the park.  But the Rangers lost Cliff Lee, so I guess something had to be done.  Beltre had a great year, and if he continues his production, he could be a big asset to the Rangers.  Only for about the first half of his contract, of course, but hey, at least now they have some stability at the hot corner.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Leafs by one and lost to the Wild by two.  And we dropped yesterday’s game to the Habs by one in sudden death.  At least we get a point.  But it was infuriating.  We scored two in the second and carried that lead into the third.  But then they tied it and the rest is history.  We are now tied with them for first in the division.  I don’t like to be tied with the Habs for first in the division.  As long as we’re ahead, I actually don’t like to be anywhere near the Habs, ever.  So we’ll need to just get some wins and be done with it.  Meanwhile, the Pats have a bye this week, but we’re playing the Jets on Sunday.  This is going to be fun.  I’m psyched.

Boston Globe Staff/Bill Greene

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